20 Czech Jokes that Fail in English

But on closer reading, deliver lessons in culture and language along with punchlines

Melvyn Clarke

Written by Melvyn Clarke Published on 16.06.2014 10:50:00 (updated on 08.12.2021) Reading time: 12 minutes

Have I ever told you the one about the businessman who gave a presentation to an English-speaking audience in Czech? Every time he cracked even the feeblest of jokes his interpreter handled it with great aplomb, and the audience burst out laughing uproariously. No matter how much he piled on the abstruse cultural allusions, historical references, and convoluted puns, his listeners doubled up with mirth and merriment. Later the interpreter confided: “Actually, every time you said anything that was meant to be funny I just told the audience you had come out with an untranslatable pun or allusion and that they should now please laugh.”

But nothing is ever truly lost in translation, merely mislaid momentarily, until you have found the solution upside-down at the bottom of the page somewhere, or failing that, a footnote. And while you are looking you can learn a lot of useful language:

Office humour 

Při příjímacím pohovoru do zaměstnání zazněl i dotaz: “Jak dlouho jste byl na minulém pracovišti?”
Rovných deset let!” pyšně odpoví adept
“A proč jste odešel?”
“No, ona byla totiž vyhlášena amnestie.”

At a job interview: “How long did you stay at your last job?”
“A good ten years,” the applicant answers proudly.
“And why did you leave it?”
“Ah, well actually they declared an amnesty.”

(Traditionally, when a new Czech president takes office he declares an amnesty for some of the prisoners.)

Bezdomovec máchá na pracovním úřadě čokoládou a vzteká se: „Jak to, že mi nevěříte, že jsem student?! Vždyť vám přece ukazuju studentskou pečeť!”

A homeless man is waving a bar of chocolate at the job centre. “Why don’t you believe I am a student? ” he says angrily. “Look here is my student’s seal.”

(Studentská pečeť is the name of a Czech chocolate bar.)

Straight from the headlines

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Lotosová, Říčany - Radošovice

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K Drkolnovu, Příbram - Příbram VI-Březové Hory

V Česku je nový moderní trend – rande naslepo s rozlévaným alkoholem.

A modern trend in the Czech Republic: blind dates with alcoholic drinks served by the glass.

(This is a bleak reference to the case of adulterated drinks in Moravia, which caused dozens of people to lose their eyesight.)

Plenty of puns

Víte, jak se chlastá poslední dobou na Moravě?
Od nevidím do nevidím.

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Family house for sale, 143m<sup>2</sup>, 226m<sup>2</sup> of land

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Lotosová, Říčany - Radošovice

Apartment for sale, 1+KK - Studio, 37m<sup>2</sup>

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K Drkolnovu, Příbram - Příbram VI-Březové Hory

Do you know how they go boozing these days in Moravia?
From dawn to dusk.

(This is a pun of sorts. Please laugh now. “Od nevidím do nevidím” is an idiom meaning “from dawn to dusk”, literally ” from ‘I don’t see’ to ‘I don’t see'”.)

“Tak jsem o dvě kila lehčí” povidá baculatá paní své přitelkyní
Ty máš nějakou zvláštní dietu?
To ne, ale jela jsem metrem bez jízdenky a přišel revzor.

“So now I am two kilos lighter,” a rather corpulent lady tells her friend.
“Are you on some special diet then?”
“Oh no. I was on the Metro without a ticket and an inspector stopped me.”

(The Prague Metro is patrolled by inspectors checking tickets. “Kilo” can also refer to a hundred crowns.)

Police and Ice Hockey: Ripe for Comedy

Policajt seká díru v ledu, aby se mohl pustit do rybolovu. Najednou se tu objeví chlapík a ptá se: “Člověče, co to děláte?” “Jdu na ryby, sekám díru do ledu. A vůbec, co je vám do toho?” “Hodně. Já jsem správce tohohle zimního stadiónu!”

A policeman is cutting a hole in the ice so that he can go fishing. Suddenly this guy appears and asks, “Hey, what are you doing?”
“I’m going fishing. I’m cutting a hole in the ice. And is it any of your business anyway?”
“Well yes, I’m the manager of this winter stadium.”

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(i.e. an ice-skating rink used for the national sport of ice hockey. The police figure in numerous Czech jokes due to their totally undeserved reputation for dimwittedness.)

Utěšují hokejové mužstvo, které vypadlo z nejvyšší soutěže: „Nic si z toho nedělejte, vždyť je tu ještě liga proti tuberkulóze!”

Consoling a relegated ice-hockey team. “Don’t let it bother you. You always have the League Against Tuberculosis after all.”

(Clearly, the League Against Tuberculosis is not an ice hockey division, but a charity. But you knew that already.)

Pronunciation hilarity

Slečna jede s instruktorem autoškoly. Ten náhle volá: Objet!
Ale slečna říká: “Ale já ještě nemám hlad”.

A young lady is driving along with her driving instructor, who suddenly calls out: “drive around…”
“But I’m not hungry yet.”

(“Objet”, or “drive round”, sounds identical to “oběd”, or “lunch”)

Totalitarianism gets the laughs

Před Národním divadlem osloví jeden pán druhého: “Víte, jaký je rozdíl mezi Národním divadlem a námi? Národní divadlo ma východ z nouze a my máme nouzi z Východu.” Druhý vytáhne příslušnou placku a zeptá se: “A víte, jaký je rozdíl mezi Národním divadlem a vámi? Národní divadlo tady zůstane a vy půjdete se mnou.” A on na to: “Víte, jaký je rozdíl mezi námi dvěma?” “Ne.” A vytáhne příslušnou placku a říká: “Vůbec žádný.”

A man tells a joke to a stranger in front of the National Theatre. “What is the difference between the National Theatre and us? The National Theatre has an emergency exit and we have destitution from the East.” The stranger pulls out his badge and asks “What is the difference between the National Theatre and you? The National Theatre will be staying right here, but you will be coming along with me. To which the first man retorts: “Do you know the difference between the two of us? “No”. So he pulls out his own badge and says “There isn’t any.”

(“Východ z nouze” is an emergency exit. “Nouze z Východu” literally means poverty, destitution from the East. The East clearly refers to the Soviet Union. The old STB secret police acted as agents provocateurs and identified themselves with badges.)

TEACHER PROFILES

Dictators, too

Muž je sněden Leonidem Brežněvem, a procházejíc se jeho žaludkem potká Gustáva Husáka. “Soudruhu prezidente,” volá, “vás také Brežněv snědl?” “Ne,” odpoví Husák,” já přišel z druhé strany.”

A man is devoured by Leonid Brezhnev and as he goes through his stomach he meets Gustav Husák. “Comrade President,” he calls out “has Brezhnev eaten you too?” “No,” answers Husák, “I came from the other end.”

(Husák had a reputation for fawning to the Soviets.)

The Czech national character as punchline

Proč český lev má dvojitý ocas?
Nemá. Původně byli dva lvové.

Why does the Czech lion have a double tail?
It doesn’t. Originally there were two lions.

(The Czech lion on the national insignia has a two-pronged tail. The imputation here is…well, think about it. This kind of joke which Czechs tell about themselves may come as a surprise to some.)

Chlapík sbírá šneky v zahradě a dává je do otevřeného kbelíku.
Kolemjdoucí soused podotýká, že potřebuje viko, jinak by mohli utéct.
“Ale ne, jsou čeští hlemýždi. Když se jeden snaží vylézt ven tak ty ostatní ho stáhnou zpátky.
  

This guy is gathering snails in his garden and putting them into an uncovered bucket. A passing neighbour points out that he needs a cover, otherwise they might escape. “No need. These are Czech snails. If one of them tries to climb out then the others will drag him back down.”

(Strangely, it would appear that some Czechs see envy as a national trait.)

We are the knights who say, sleep!

Svatý Václav se žene v čele blanických rytířů ku Praze a zastaví ho Špidla, Škromach, Svoboda a Součková s Grossem.
Všichni se najednou ptají: “Kam jedeš svatý Václave s tím ozbrojeným doprovodem? Tady máš usnesení sjezdu ČSSD a Svoboda ti předá koncept naší reformy veřejných financí.”
Svatý Václav oba obsáhlé dokumenty přečte, dá povel blanickým rytířům, aby obrátili koně a říká: “Kluci, jedem domů, českému národu bude ještě hůř!”

St Wenceslas comes charging into Prague leading his Blaník knights. They meet up with the politicians of your choice, who all ask: “Where are you off to, Saint Wenceslas, with your band of merry men? Here are our latest resolutions and our public finance reform policy.”

Saint Wenceslas reads the documents and gives the order to withdraw. “Let’s go boys. They’ll sure be needing us here in five years’ time.”

(According to legend, Wenceslas and his knights are sleeping beneath Blaník, but will awake in their nation’s hour of need.)

A fish called funny

Předseda KSČM si opéká na břehu jezera zlatou rybku.
Jdou okolo rybáři a povídají:
“Dobrý den, proč jste tu rybu zabili, vždyť to byla zlatá rybka.”
A předseda na to odpovídá:
“Však mi také už ty přání splnila.”

The Communist Party Chairman is sitting on the banks of a lake cooking a golden fish.
Some anglers pass by and tell him:
“Why have you killed that fish? It was golden!”
To which the president responds:
“Oh sure, I let it grant me the wishes first.”

(Traditionally, golden fish will grant anybody who catches them three wishes.)

Vyloví rybář zlatou rybku a rybka říká:
“Pusť mě, splním ti tři přání.”
A rybář na to:
“To máš smůlu, já jsem kouzelný dědeček.”

An angler catches a golden fish, which says:
“Let me go and I’ll grant you three wishes.”
To which the angler retorts:
“You’re out of luck. I’m a magic grandfather.”

(Magic grandfathers have powers similar to those of golden fish.)

„Jak já se letos těším na Vánoce…” říká Pepa.
„Čekáš hodně dárků?”
„Ani ne, ale ženě obvykle zaskočí kost z kapra a já jí můžu dát herdu do zad.”

“I am looking forward to Christmas this year…” says Pepa.
“Are you expecting lots of presents?”
“No, but my wife usually gets a bone caught in her throat from the carp, so I can give her a thump on the back.”

(Carp is a classic Christmas meal for the Czechs.)

Historical humour, second only to…

Vědci za totality vykopou dvě kostry a určí, že jsou to Cyril a Metoděj. Ale teď nevědí, který je který. Pošlou obě kostry do Sojuzu, ke specialistům. Za měsíc přijdou vzorky zpátky ve dvou malých krabicích, obě kostry naprosto na prášek. V jedné krabici je malá cedulka: „To je Cyril – přiznal se.”

TEACHER PROFILES

Under the totalitarian regime Czech archeologists dug up two skeletons and found out that they were Cyril and Methodius. But then they did not know which one was which. So they sent both skeletons to the Soviet Union for specialist tests. A month later the samples came back reduced to dust in two little boxes. A label on one of the boxes said “This one is Cyril. We got the confession.”

(Cyril and Methodius are the guys who brought Christianity to the Czech lands.)

…Cottage Jokes!

Prodám chatu. K vidění ve 22:20 v Chuchli, ve 23:00 u Národního divadla a ve 23:50 v Tróji.
Zn: Rychlé jednání

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Cottage for sale. Viewing at 10.20 pm in Chuchle, 11 pm at the National Theatre and 11.50 in Troje. Quote: fast deal.

(A joke that was circulating round the time of the Prague floods.)

Loves of a Blonde (Joke)

Stěžuje si blondýnka v servisu: „Neposlouchá mě auto.”
Automechanik si ji změří od hlavy k patě a odsekne: „A to mu mám jako přimontovat uši, nebo co?!”

A blonde makes a complaint at the service station: “My car doesn’t do what I tell it to”
The mechanic gives her a testy look and retorts “So do you want me to fix ears onto it then?”

(“Poslouchat” means obey, but also listen.)

So this American gets off a tram…

Jaký je rozdíl mezi Angličanem, Američanem a Čechem, když vystoupí z tramváje.
Angličan vstane, ohlédne se a vystoupí.
Američan vstane, ohlédne se pro připad, že tam něco nechal a vystoupí.
Čech vstane, ohlédne se pro připad, že tam někdo jiný něco nechal a vystoupí.

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Apartment for sale, 4+kk - 3 bedrooms, 104m<sup>2</sup>

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Family house for sale, 143m<sup>2</sup>, 226m<sup>2</sup> of land

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Lotosová, Říčany - Radošovice

Apartment for sale, 1+KK - Studio, 37m<sup>2</sup>

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K Drkolnovu, Příbram - Příbram VI-Březové Hory

What’s the difference between an Englishman, an American and a Czech getting off of a tram?
The Englishman gets up, looks around, and gets off the tram. 
The American gets up, looks around to see if he’s left anything behind, and then gets off the tram. 
The Czech gets up, looks around to see if anyone else has left anything behind and then gets off the tram. 

(The funny thing here is that you probably act just like the Czech too, right? But would it ever occur to you to make a joke about your country-persons out of this?)

Fractured Fairy Tales

As a bonus, this twenty-first joke does have a mildly amusing ending, but are you laughing for the correct reasons? 

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Medvěd si otevřel obchod. Přijde k němu zajíček a ptá se: “Medvěde, máš shnilou mrkvičku?” 
Medvěd na to: “No dovol, zajíci, v mém obchodě je jen kvalitní čerstvé zboží. Nic starého ani shnilého tu nemám.” 
Zajíček odešel a druhý den je tam znovu: “Je shnilá mrkvička?” 
Rozladěný medvěd ho vyhodil a myslí si: “Ten zajíc mi nedá pokoj, dokud mu tu mrkvičku neseženu.” 
Dalšího dne přjde zajíček a ptá se: “Máš shnilou mrkvičku?” 
Medvěd říká: “Podívej, zajíci, tohle je solidní obchod a shnilou mrkvičku tu nevedu, ale speciálně pro tebe jsem ji sehnal. Takže shnilou mrkvičku mám.” 
Zajíček vytáhne legitimaci a povídá: “Obchodní inspekce!”

Mr Bear opens a shop. A little hare comes along and asks “Mr Bear, have you got any rotten carrots for me?”
Mr Bear answers “Hey, c’mon, hare, I only sell fresh, high-quality goods. Nothing old or rotten here.”
Mr Hare leaves but he’s back the next day. “Got any rotten carrots for me?”
The annoyed bear throws him out, but then he realizes that the hare is not going to leave him in peace until he gives him a rotten carrot.
Next day the hare comes back and asks “Have you got any rotten carrots?”
Mr Bear says: “Listen here, hare. This is a reputable shop and we don’t have any rotten carrots, but just for you I have found this one here. So go on, take it.”
The little hare takes out his ID: “Trade Inspection Authority!”

(So the Brettschneider agent provocateur archetype is alive and well even in classic Czech fairy tales.)

If you’re considering a course to learn the Czech Language, you can find a great selection right here.

**
Sources:
Pikantně-naučný vtipník – František Zacharník
Úsměvy a moudra – Jaroslav Moravec
Nejlepší vtipy o pivu a k pivu – Václav Budinský
Dělnický dům, Kamenné Žehrovice
http://www.ivtipy.cz/

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